And technology can be a great source for good, when used and shared correctly.
“Nothing happens in a vacuum,” the winner of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in the Science, Health and Medicine sector explains. “There are rich layers underneath every challenge, and deeply entrenched power structures.”
Dismantling these structures is what drives Dr Kanhutu’s sense of justice. Specifically, right now, she’s keen to disrupt the ‘Knight in shining armour’ phenomenon. You know when a tech-expert, usually a man, comes in to ‘save the day’ when a tech issue arises.
Dr Kudzai wants this to change. Instead of letting the IT expert (most often a male) come in and fix the issue, she suggests we should instead request the ‘expert’ simply explains how the issue is fixed. “The knowledge should be shared,” she says.
“Men tend to hold on to that knowledge, and they hold on to it like it’s some sort of power.”
— The Royal Melbourne Hospital (@TheRMH) September 13, 2019
It is a strangely acceptable form of humiliation to allow someone to enter a room, fix an issue, and have everyone in that room deem them a ‘saviour’. A ‘wizard’. A ‘genius’!.
“How about getting the men to share a bit of their knowledge?” Dr Kanhutu suggests.
Dr Kanhutu works as an infectious diseases physician and Deputy Medical Information Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Her research encompasses virtual care, digital and tech literacy and the impact of housing stress on refugee health outcomes.
— Women's Agenda (@WomensAgenda) September 13, 2019
In this role, especially being in a male dominated sector, she believes that simply turning up and being 100% herself is powerful and critical.
Asked how she navigates being in the minority in this setting, she said she is simply aware of the power of her presence, as someone who looks different, and doesn’t have any self-delusions about what she can achieve as one person.
“You just need to be yourself, present and unwavering and represent yourself as an individual; not as the only woman in the room if you find yourself in that situation. Or the person of colour. Just be yourself, and you will make yourself stand out.”
During our interview, we talk about the daunting power structures that are so ingrained in society, the seemingly intractable systemic structures of the workforce, and how its rigidity leaves women struggling to push through, and get their voices heard.
So what can we do?
“Allow yourself to be present, in any given situation. Be conscious and deliberate in everything you do, and always ask yourself why you are doing what you’re doing,” she said.
“Ask yourself, why am I in the room? Try to normalise your presence. It’s about – did you do as much as you can do, even if you’re just one person? Allowing that attitude of ability rather than vulnerability to channel through.”
Her positive enthusiasm for a better future for women in the health sector is encouraging.
“There are plenty of organisations and groups highlighting the importance of dismantling these toxic gender biases we hold, that are focused on addressing these issues. But the next step would be to embed their research and recommendations into the workplace.”
Dr Kanhutu believes organisations need to actively help shift the gender disparity in the health sector, but not by donating money. (Charity, according to her, is simply a form of ‘ethical outsourcing’). Instead, they can start by remembering that, “each organisation can do at least one thing to make things better for its female employees, and create those policies, that will advance the cause.”
“Each business can do more and show consciousness around these issues, by monitoring data and holding themselves accountable,” she said.
Check out our recent finalists Q&A with Dr Kanhutu on the her highly successful career in health and tech.
Big thanks to NNT for sponsoring the Emerging Leaders in Science Health and Medicine at the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards